EU – South Africa relations as seen by South Africa’s biggest opposition party

Helen Zille_FHelen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Prime Minister of the Western Cape in South Africa, has been an outspoken advocate for civil and political rights all her life. On invitation of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Helen Zille visited Brussels to meet with representatives from EU Institutions, politicians, journalists and think tanks.

Helen Zille is mostly known for being an anti-apartheid activist. In her early days as a political correspondent for Rand Daily Mail, she exposed the cover-up of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko’s death. In her political career as former Mayor of the city of Cape Town she received the 2008 World Mayor Prize. Since 2007, in her role as leader of the Democratic Alliance, Zille continues to challenge the ruling government of President Zuma on a number of issues, from corruption and cronyism to backtracking on much needed economic reforms. In recognition of Zille’s lifework in the name of freedom, the liberal politician was awarded the Friedrich Naumann Freedom Prize 2014 she received in Frankfurt on November 8.

Theurer ZilleHelen Zille is an optimist. She advocates for a world where people are judged by their contribution to society, not their ethnic or religious background. To achieve her goal, she wants to reform South Africa and develop a full-blown democracy. “Elections are not enough to have a democracy”, she repeats relentlessly “it is the change of government through peaceful and just elections that make it a democracy”. She believes time has come for change in South Africa. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is so divided that it is unable to govern the country. All over the country citizens are more and more disappointed and looking for alternatives to the ANC.

To discuss these and many more issues, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom organised a series of bilateral meetings with European Think Tanks in foreign policy and development cooperation, such as ecdpm, CEPS and Friends of Europe. She also discussed the bilateral relations between the EU and South Africa with the European External Action Service and Directorate-General Development Cooperation of the European Commission. Especially the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and SADEC by the South African parliament was a topic of interest and an issue in which the Democratic Alliance can play a positive role.

IMG_4480In all her meetings with Members of Parliament and EU officials, Helen Zille insisted on the need for continued European support for South Africa, however not without conditionality. The last EU-Africa summit was not attended by president Zuma and in 2014 the summit was cancelled. Thus EU-South Africa relations need a new boost, which, in Helen Zille’s view, will probably not happen as long as there is no political change in South Africa. But, though Helen Zille relentlessly criticizes the South African government, she also agrees that the national development plan is a good support for development and growth in Africa. It is ironic though that the governmental plan is better implemented in the province of Western Cape, the only one led by the opposition party Democratic Alliance, than in any other region of South Africa.


Julie Cantalou